Why Ask?Budgets are tight everywhere. Even in the most well-off places, there's no good reason to spend money that doesn't need to be spent, and if you can stretch your budget and spend your programming money on other things, it's never a bad thing. In addition, reaching out to local businesses can provide valuable partnership opportunities in the future. Even if they are unable to donate prizes, you may be making contact with places that you can collaborate with later for programming. (Perhaps the local bakery doesn't want to give out free cupcake coupons, but may be interested in doing a cupcake decorating class in the future. You never know!)
Please note that this doesn't have to be just for the children's department, though it may be a good idea to have one point person for the library being the one to solicit, and prizes can be distributed to where they might be best used once they arrive.
Who to Ask?Be creative! Local ice cream stands may give coupons for free cones; bowling alleys may give free games. A candy store once gave me a large supply of candy, which was given out to teens who won it on a scratch ticket. A local grocery store might donate bags of chips for a movie night. The possibilities are endless, and you never know what someone might have to offer until you speak with them. Savvy business owners will know that handing out a coupon for a free ice cream cone means that everyone else in the family will end up purchasing one.
While many chain stores may not be allowed by store policy to donate items, many also have donations written into their policies; I got a lovely assortment of food from Trader Joe's one year, because they had it in their rules that they could give it to us. (I believe the teens ate it at a movie night.) It never hurts to ask!
What to DoI generally send a letter to each of the businesses I've selected, and include an addressed, stamped return envelope to make it easy for the businesses to reply. I also keep a spreadsheet of who I have asked and what their responses were, and what, if anything, they donated. In addition, I make sure to note in a press release and on promotional materials (if there's room) that "prizes have generously been donated by..." I have also printed out the logos of local businesses and hung them on a bulletin board in the children's room.
What to SayHere's a sample letter that you can adapt to your needs.
[City, State, ZIP]
Dear General Manager,
My name is Miss Kat and I am the Children's Librarian at the Everytown Public Library. I am reaching out to you about the library's annual Summer Reading Program. I was hoping you would be willing to donate a prize for program participants.
The Summer Reading Program has been an annual tradition since the 1890s, and promotes literacy and a love of lifelong learning in children and teens. More recently, there are adult Summer Reading programs as well, so everyone can join the fun! This year, our theme is "A Universe of Stories," and we will be holding [large number of] programs for town residents.
In addition to helping us reward our library patrons, a donation would help promote your business and help foster a sense of community in Everytown. We would be happy to thank you publicly for your generosity, and promote your business at the same time.
Thank you so much for your time!
Everytown Public Library
⃞ Yes, I would love to donate a prize and I will contact you!
⃞ Yes, my prize is enclosed!
⃞ I would not like to or are unable to donate, but thank you for thinking of us!